From the Archives: The Scariest Children’s Book We’ve Ever Published

Oh, we’ve done plenty of Halloween books over the years, and we have a fine selection of them out this season and on our backlist. But the creepiest and most terrifying book our company has ever published isn’t a Halloween book at all.

It’s this book:

Published in 1945 with an exclusively black-and-white palette, Time to Eat presents “correct ideas on a proper, balanced diet for children,” according to the flap copy. Clearly, though, the book does far more than kill all the fun of mealtimes, and must have been used as an instrument of terror.

Scroll down, and brace yourself. What follows are some of the most haunting images ever produced for children.

Yes, just “stew.”

I think the use of shadow in this one is especially effective.

Oh, no.

And now, the worst one of all:


Happy Halloween, everyone!

From the Archives: The Scariest Children’s Book We’ve Ever Published

Where have I seen that art before?

A few months ago we were going through our very ancient art archives that date back to the old days when the company fully owned all the illustrations.  The archives have been a treasure trove: among other things, we unearthed the complete artwork for a long out-of-print Flicka, Ricka, Dicka book, which we’re reissuing this spring.

And then one day, I was talking with Laura, our archive manager, who was just unwrapping a stack of illustrations that hadn’t seen the light of day in decades. They were pen-and-ink on paper, with tissue paper on top showing where color overlays would be printed. We didn’t know the book, but something about the style looked familiar. Something about that girl in the bonnet…

“Oh my goodness!” I said. “It’s Helen Moore Sewell! She did the original art for the Little House books!” (Which were published by Harper in New York, but if you know me at all, I have something of an interest in those books.)

The artwork we were looking at was for a title called Peter and Gretchen of Old Nuremberg by Viola M. Jones, which we published in 1935.

Little House on the Prairie was also first published in 1935. You can see here that she used a similar style with the color overlays.

It’s really something to see this original art up close, and to see Sewell’s technique. The art on the right is the tissue paper showing the overlays. It must have been photographed and made into color plates.

And the cross-hatching is exquisite!

Helen Sewell’s illustrations in the Little House series were replaced by the now-iconic Garth Williams artwork when the series was reissued in 1953.  I love the Williams stuff, of course, but there’s something so engaging about Sewell’s art, too. It’s a different kind of “classic” style, and getting to see it up close and in person gave me a new appreciation of her work.

Where have I seen that art before?

From the Archives: Winter Blues? Try Going Dutch!

The temperature was -6 here in Chicago yesterday morning. There are ice ruts on the sidewalks, salt stains on everyone’s shoes, and on every street corner is a dirty mound of rock-hard snow fifteen feet high.

You know what we need? TULIPS. And primary colors. And a pet white duck named “Kleintje.”

Continue reading “From the Archives: Winter Blues? Try Going Dutch!”

From the Archives: Winter Blues? Try Going Dutch!

A Tale of Two Whitmans

If you’ve been reading this blog since the summer, you’ve seen plenty of our old books.

But we’re occasionally asked about other old books—books that turn up quite often at flea markets, antique stores, and in personal collections. Here’s an example:

These books are often tie-ins to TV shows and movies from the 50s and 60s, and they say “Whitman” on the spine.  Sometimes friends and acquaintances come across these books and wonder if we published them. They ask: Is that the same Whitman?

The answer is no. And yes!

The simple explanation: those books that say “Whitman” were produced by the Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin. Not our company—we’re in Chicago, and we go by the name Albert Whitman & Company.

The more complicated explanation: Whitman Publishing Company was a subsidiary of Western Printing & Lithographing Company of Racine, Wisconsin, which got into the children’s book business in 1916, after it merged with a Chicago publisher called Whitman-Hamming. That Chicago company was not our company, either, but it was founded in part by a veteran book salesman named Albert Whitman. Who also happens to be OUR Albert Whitman.

And shortly after his first company became part of Western Publishing, Albert set out on his own to start another business in 1919—that’s us!

The Whitman Company in Wisconsin became well-known for its inexpensive books and Hollywood licensing deals, and in the 1940s, its parent company began producing the famous Little Golden Books. (Sometimes folks think that we started Little Golden Books—we didn’t, but the name “Whitman” may have appeared on the copyright page of early editions, hence the confusion.)

As for Albert Whitman & Company, we became famous for publishing the Boxcar Children Mysteries, bringing innovative special-needs titles to the public in the 1960s, and we’ve remained independently owned for more than 90 years. In 1949, Mr. Whitman sold the company to a group of his employees, and company ownership has continued in that tradition ever since.  More about the company’s history can be found here.

So what’s up with the two Whitmans? Different companies… but the same man behind the name!


A Tale of Two Whitmans

From the Archives: we wrote the book on Merry Christmas!

Well, okay, we just PUBLISHED it. In 1952. And just how Christmasy is the Little Folks’ Merry Christmas Book? Let’s review the table of contents:

Whoa, that’s a LOT of Christmas! Christmas jokes, Christmas candles, surprise Christmas trees that can walk and trim themselves, and ambulatory toys that sing.  All that and the Clement C. Moore poem. And then there are these opening pages:

Have you ever seen a cheerier example of one-color printing? No, we didn’t think so.  May your days be merry and bright, no matter what color your world is this time of year.

From the Archives: we wrote the book on Merry Christmas!

From the Archives: The Archivist speaks!

By Kathleen Spale

When most people think of summer vacation, they think of time spent on beaches in the sun with sand and water spreading endlessly around them.  So when I heard about an opportunity to sit in a small, fluorescent-lit room surrounded by 22 bins of 1621 dusty, old books for my summer vacation, you can imagine what I said…..

You bet!

As a librarian, illustrator, and longtime lover of children’s books and history, to me, creating an Albert Whitman archive was the summer adventure of a lifetime.  Books since 1919…..never knowing what each one holds…..It was like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark…..crate after crate of new surprises…..

Would I find the ark of the covenant?

Well, not quite, but, as Wendy has highlighted on this blog on many Fridays, I was able to unearth many gems…..some funny, some strange, almost always interesting.

I know that on occasion, out of my room full of bins and books, the staff at Albert Whitman probably heard a gasp or a giggle.  I couldn’t help myself.  On one hand, I found first editions of books illustrated by Randolph Caldecott, Crockett Johnson, James Montgomery Flagg, J. C. Leyendecker, Maj Lindmann, and Kurt Wiese and 1940s editions of The Gingerbread Man, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and Pecos Bill while on the other hand, I found the trio of Mother Goose Etiquette Rhymes, Mother Goose Health Rhymes, and Mother Goose Safety Rhymes, which made certain to illustrate the consequences of a little boy touching a live wire!

Every week, I felt like Marty McFly in the movie Back to the Future, entering a time machine, strapping on a safety belt, and launching into a time long ago and not so long ago.  One week, I was in World War II.  The next week, I was in the Wild West.  Some books even dared to glimpse into the future.  Would the year 2000 bring flying cars and use of a new invention called plastic?  Would libraries of the future have reading rooms and lists of books to facilitate child development?

But as with all good things, as the clock winds down, the books lay still, and the bins remain empty, my great adventure through history is ending.  And as I slowly depart my time machine here at Albert Whitman, I am amazed that while so many aspects of children’s books have changed since 1919, like word count, color replication, and story subtlety, some things haven’t changed at all.

Throughout the Albert Whitman archives, one series that I continually found was called “Just Right Books,” and this name made me think.  Isn’t that concept still so true?  Aren’t we all as children and adults still looking for the just right book?  When we are gloomy, when we are cheerful, when we are bored, we are always looking for the one book out there that is just right for each of us in our particular place and time.  And I, for one, am grateful to report that after some months here at Albert Whitman, it is clear that Albert Whitman still has a dedicated staff who devote so much time and energy trying to find these “just right books” for everyone.

As I leave these archives too, I can’t help but ponder, what will people in the future say about the archives of our current books.  Will they laugh?  Will they cry?  Will the books transport them to a place and time that they never have experienced before?  Will we predict flying cars again in our future?  Like pages of a book, each passing day flips forward and one day, will reveal the story to be told.

As for me, like so many great children’s adventure books, this summer at Albert Whitman was one to remember, and even though I did not change the course of history or find the ark of the covenant, I did have an experience that I will always appreciate and never forget, no matter the time.

From the Archives: The Archivist speaks!

From the Archives: Halloween Mystery Illustration

And by “mystery illustration” we don’t mean this image comes from a Boxcar Children book. We mean we found this little bit of artwork in our archives a couple weeks ago, but have yet to identify the book it came from!

It appears to be from the 1950s. And the longer you look at it, the more mysterious the scene becomes:

Just what are those children doing?

This weekend, watch out for zombies, vampires, ghouls, and deceptively wholesome-looking children carrying evil kittens.  Happy Halloween!



From the Archives: Halloween Mystery Illustration

From the Archives: Let’s Fly to Bermuda! (Because We’re Fabulous)

Remember when air travel was so glamorous that you had to wear a tie, even if you were a kid?

Well, okay, neither do we. But in 1942, when we published Let’s Fly to Bermuda by Marjorie Barrows, it was the norm, at least for exceedingly lucky twins like Nan and Toby. (Though you have to wonder why a family who can afford to jaunt off to tropical islands is taking a bus to the airport. Couldn’t Mother revise her fancy hat budget to allow for a cab now and then?)

But never mind, because once they board the plane the family has to endure the usual airline hassles—you know, tablecloths, three-course meals, attendants in stylish pillbox hats waiting on your every need.

(Remember this image next time you fly. Try not to weep into your packet of pretzels.)

And look, Nan has her armrest all to herself!

Do you suppose the in-flight movie was Casablanca? Sigh.

All right, that’s enough nostalgia and envy for today. Happy Friday!

From the Archives: Let’s Fly to Bermuda! (Because We’re Fabulous)

Hot Topics: #speakloudly

Tomorrow is the last day of Banned Books Week. We hope you’ve been out there reading banned books and sharing them with other readers too. One of my favorite t-shirts is from the guys at Unshelved.

It’s fun to wear in public, because it confuses people. When asked, I tell them it means you should read something bad for you. So for me, as a kid in a very liberal environment, that was usually something below grade level or without “intellectual” challenge. For others, this might be comic books or romance novels or a young adult novel about a rape.

Author Laurie Halse Anderson made the entire children’s literature community proud this month as she stood up to the attempted censorship of her novel Speak. Not that I believe wannabe censors usually think through their actions, but it was perhaps it was not the best of decisions to try to silence a book about not being silent. Within a few hours of the start of the #speakloudly hashtag on Twitter, there were hundreds (if not thousands) of posts in support of the book. There has now been a New York Times blog post and a Guardian UK article about the hubbub. I don’t have access to sales figures, but I don’t think it’s a bad guess to say Speak has had quite a bump this month. So, professionally speaking—perhaps I “like” a good banning now and then.

Judy Blume is my idol. I read Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret 30 times (yes 30!) when I was a kid.  I read just about everything else as well. Between Judy and Nancy Drew, it’s really no surprise that I work in publishing. On her website, she says, “I believe that censorship grows out of fear, and because fear is contagious, some parents are easily swayed. Book banning satisfies their need to feel in control of their children’s lives. This fear is often disguised as moral outrage. They want to believe that if their children don’t read about it, their children won’t know about it. And if they don’t know about it, it won’t happen.”

Ethically, though, I think parents and other supposedly well-intentioned adults cause untold damage to their children and their potential as future adults. Whether it’s protecting them from sex, drugs, and rock ‘ n roll, or ruining their love of reading by forcing them to read Dickens over the summer (now, that’s a topic for another time), limiting anyone’s reading choices is both insulting and wrong. Hey, I’ve got an idea: why don’t you read the book with your child and explain your issues?  Maybe you could engage in a real discussion about the who they are and who you know they can be.

One of our authors is also excited to be challenged just in time for Banned Books Week. Dori Hillestad Butler blogged the fun earlier this week. Just in case you didn’t know, My Mom’s Having a Baby! tells it exactly the way it is, so we recently added a subtitle on our website and for online retailers as well: A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy. Hey, censors!  Come and get us!

Hot Topics: #speakloudly

From the Archives: Good Morning, Teacher

Nothing like a week’s worth of posts about grammar and punctuation to make you feel like you’re in school again.  So it seems only appropriate to feature Jene Barr’s Good Morning, Teacher (note the comma!) for this week’s archive. Published in 1957, with illustrations by Lucy and John Hawkinson, Good Morning, Teacher makes us remember a time in our lives when we were just learning to master words and learn the rules of all those tidy little sentences.  Sometimes we all could stand to have an encouraging voice like Miss Bell’s in our heads.

Barr, whose papers are in the De Grummond Children’s Literature Archive, was a teacher herself for many years, and her books for Whitman, with titles like Mr. Zip and the US Mail and Paul the Policeman, are the quintessence of 1950s children’s books. There’s something strangely poignant about the simple text of these stories.  The moment conveyed in the spread below, for instance, feels almost Raymond Carveresque, except that it’s as quietly hopeful as those little plants on the windowsill.

Oh, Miss Bell. Somebody loves you. Somebody loves us all.

Happy Friday!

From the Archives: Good Morning, Teacher